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Call for schools smartphone ban over bully fears

SMARTPHONES and social network sites should be banned from schools as adults fear cyberbullying is seriously affecting children's mental health.

Irish teens are the most likely to be victims of cyberbullying in Europe.

But parents and schools need to share responsibility for tackling the major issue, according to a survey by Amarach Research for the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD).

The call comes as it emerges that children as young as 11 are watching porn, some while they are doing their homework.

RTE Two documentary Generation Sex has explored the effect of the porn industry on children and teenagers.



Psychologist Deborah Mulvany said young people accessing hardcore images can lead to unrealistic sexual expectations.

"Research by Unicef showed four out of five boys between the ages of 15 and 24 view porn, while two out of five girls admitted to watching adult content.

"This can have serious long-term effects.

"We had one person who had been consuming porn for years and then with his first sexual experience was shocked to find girls had body hair.

"Porn makes both genders worry about their bodies," said Ms Mulvany, whose documentary Generation Sex airs tonight at 9.30pm on RTE Two.

Meanwhile, up to 18pc of parents believe that their child has been a victim of bullying online.

Two high-profile victims of cyberbullying last year, Erin Gallagher (13) from Co Donegal, and Ciara Pugsley (15) from Co Leitrim, took their own lives.

However, the NAPD believes that the social networks themselves need to play a greater role.

Principals and teachers are frustrated that the organisations are slow to remove offensive posts.

Director Clive Byrne believes that social networks should have a helpline and dedicated officer for anyone concerned about cyberbullying.

"Principals tell me that social networks either do not respond or are slow to react to their requests to take down abusive posts about a student in their care," he said.

"The social networks ought to have a dedicated liaison officer whose job it is to take calls from schools and parents and act promptly in deleting offensive posts."

Mr Byrne said the results show that most people believe bullying, in whatever form, "imperils children's mental health", and responsibility for tackling the problem is shared between parents and schools.

A total of 81pc believe that cyberbullying and traditional bullying have equally serious implications for children's mental health.

And 63pc believe that smartphones should be banned from schools while 68pc said it is the role of parents to advise and warn children about safe internet practice.

Almost half, 49pc, believe that parents should restrict their children's internet use.

Jackie O'Callaghan, of the National Parents Council (Post-Primary), said that social networks had a "moral and ethical" obligation to play a greater role in preventing cyberbullying.



But she said that parents should not allow children under the age of 13 on to social networking sites.

"Many do not realise the implications. There is a huge need for parents to be more aware of the implications of cyberbullying," Ms O'Callaghan said.

Facebook recently outlined that it offers a 24-hour complaint action and strives to offer a 24-hour response period.

The company said that it supported education programmes in schools about safe internet use.

See Sinead Ryan, page 14